10 Celebrities Who Have Refugee Parents

There are many celebrities who have come to America as refugees themselves, but there are even more who have parents who made the tough call to leave their home country. This has led to many of these celebrities sharing their parents’ heartbreaking stories and advocating for refugees today. So which celebrities have these amazing family stories? Here are 10 celebrities who have refugee parents.

1. Rita Ora

Rita Ora

Rita Ora | Mike Coppola/Getty Images

The singer and host of America’s Next Top Model‘s family had to escape from Kosovo when a war broke out. She was just under 1-year-old at the time and she was sent to a children’s home along with her sister, according to the Mirror. “We were lucky to get out,” she told The Sun. “The airport was closing down and they weren’t letting anyone leave by that stage. We were the last flight out. It was really scary for them.”

She continued to praise her strong parents, “I never realised how much they had to sacrifice. I think my parents are the strongest people I’ve ever known. They made a life all over again, from scratch.” Her family relocated to England. In the Evening Standard, she also opened up about the prejudice refugees face.

That word [refugee] carries a lot of prejudice but it also made us determined to survive. When you put anyone into an alien environment, where other people aren’t completely comfortable with them being there, they are automatically going to be defensive. It’s the rule of the jungle, right?

2. M.I.A.

M.I.A. at Vulture Festival Presents MIA + Solange at Webster Hall

M.I.A. | Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

The rapper’s father fought with separatist rebels in Sri Lanka. M.I.A. was born in Sri Lanka, but her family would go back-and-forth between the island and India. Due to Sri Lanka’s war her family migrated, but it wasn’t easy to leave. “They would stop the bus and take all the men off the bus,” she said on NPR. “And we never saw them again.” Since then, the rapper has been outspoken about the refugee crisis.

3. Andy García

Andy Garcia

Andy García | Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

The actor’s father helped get him and the rest of his family out of Cuba. “I left Cuba when I was 5 1/2, and I remember everything,” he said according to News Max. “Conditions became progressively worse for us. The government took our land. Money that was in the bank was taken, too. The state passed a law and parents lost their rights to their own children.” After the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961, his parents made the decision to leave Cuba. While the rest of his family left, his father stayed behind, but followed a month later.

4. Gene Simmons

Gene Simmons

Gene Simmons of the band Kiss | Kristian Dowling/Getty Images

The Kiss icon’s mother was a Holocaust survivor. “I did my own research and found out just how terrible it was,” he told The Big Issue. “I’ve tried to talk about it, but she just won’t do it. She saw her mother walk into the gas chambers. Her whole family was destroyed. My mother was the only one left alive. And she was 14.” She later made her way to Israel where Gene Simmons was born. When he was 8 years old they immigrated to New York City.

5. Jerry Springer

Jerry Springer

Jerry Springer | NBC

The television host’s parents left Germany for England in 1939. They were escaping Nazi Germany, but sadly 27 of their family members weren’t able to escape and were murdered by Nazis. Springer went through documents from the World Jewish Relief archives project.

“These documents just blew me away,” he said according to Jewish News. “They showed that my parents got out just four weeks before the war started and based on the number at the top of their document, they were among the last 100 Jews to leave Germany.”

6. Steve Jobs

Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up the new iPhone

Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up the new iPhone | David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Steve Jobs will always be an icon for the way he shaped Apple and technology. Many however, probably didn’t know he was adopted and his biological father, Abdul Fattah Jandali was a Syrian refugee. He left Syria during the civil war, and went to Lebanon. He again had to flee due to protests and eventually made it to New York. Jandali met Jobs’ mother at Wisconsin University.

7. Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury | Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Queen lead singer was born in the British protectorate of Zanzibar. His family went back-and-forth between Zanzibar and India until he was a teenager. He even studied piano in a boarding school in Mumbai. But things changed when his family returned to Zanzibar during the political revolution in 1964. Many people were slaughtered during the unrest so his family left for Feltham, Middlesex in England. The singer went on to become an icon who didn’t really open up about his family’s past.

8. Luol Deng

Luol Deng

Luol Deng | Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The professional basketball player’s family was forced out of South Sudan due to civil war. They were given political asylum in the United Kingdom. He opened up about his early memories of being a refugee, according to the Los Angeles Times.

I remember when I was a kid as a refugee in Egypt every day there was always a hope that we get to leave tomorrow or get to go somewhere. Never knew where, we just wanted somewhere where we wanted an opportunity to make something out of it, and that opportunity came five years later. Now I’m thankful for growing up in Egypt and I’ve learned a lot. But at the same time, I know what it feels like to wait for that opportunity to come every day.

9. Mika


Mika at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park | Cindy Ord/Getty Images

The British singer was born in Beirut, Lebanon, but his family was forced out of the war-torn country. They went to Paris first, but eventually made it to London. Since becoming successful in music, Mika has been very outspoken on the behalf of refugees. This is especially the case for Syrian refugees, who he met as a U.N. Refugee Agency supporter. He also tweeted about the Muslim ban.

“Astonishing day of news in the US. The testimonials surfacing are heartbreaking. How can we not feel angry? @Refugees,” he said.

10. Alek Wek

Alek Wek

Alek Wek attends the German Sustainability Award 2015 | Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

The supermodel fled with her family from Sudan in the 1990s when the country was in the middle of a civil war. “I knew that there was a conflict,” she said according to The Independent, “but I was very saddened that we had to leave. It was like someone chucked you out of your home…. But not just that, you are [left] vulnerable.”

Follow Nicole Weaver on Twitter @nikkibernice

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